The seaweed known as sargassum again knocked out Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park from consideration on the annual Top 10 list of America’s best beaches, a ranking compiled by a Florida International University professor known as “Dr. Beach.”
“The problem is sargassum. Bill Baggs does not clear the sargassum off the beach,” said Stephen Leatherman, a professor in the Department of Earth & Environment at FIU.
“It knocked off all the beaches on the East Coast of Florida, not just Bill Baggs.”
Bill Baggs Cape Florida used to be considered one of the nation’s top beaches on Leatherman’s list, but it no longer is because it has a policy of not removing sargassum. The Village of Key Biscayne and Miami-Dade County have different policies, either trucking it away or blending it into the sand.
This year’s top 10 list marks the 33rd year Leatherman has rated the best of America’s 650 public beaches around Memorial Day, the traditional start of summer. The state park on St. George Island just off the Florida Panhandle with its 9-mile stretch of sugary sand was rated No. 1.
Back in 2013, Bill Baggs was on the list – about the time that sargassum started showing up on Florida shores. But sargassum has kept it off the list in recent years.
Right now all eyes are on the 5,000-mile-long belt of seaweed that is heading across the Caribbean that was feared to land in South Florida in May and June.
Leatherman on Thursday was kind of harried because his list was accidentally released by The Associated Press one week ahead of time. He had been working with NBC’s Today Show for a story to run when the list was to be released.
And where did the television news crew go to video Leatherman? Bill Baggs. “They wanted to get a beach in great quality close by,” Leatherman said.
So far Key Biscayne area beaches have been lucky on the sargassum front because winds have not pushed the blob through the Florida Straits. The sargassum is a great incubator for marine life, but once it reaches the beach it creates a stinky mess, sometimes prompting health alerts.
“This is just a huge mess and I’ve been talking to several entrepreneurs about ways of trying to deal with this stuff,” Leatherman said.
Leatherman always had a soft spot for Bill Baggs. Back when it frequented his list, the professor praised its emerald-colored waters, white coral sand and gentle surf, saying it offered the best swimming in the Southeastern U.S.
What about other Key Biscayne area beaches? Leatherman said Crandon Beach on Virginia Key just doesn’t get a lot of use.
“I would like to see Crandon come back as a major beach, but it really is not now,” he said.
Fifty criteria are used to evaluate beaches, including water and sand quality and recreational opportunities.
St. George Island is frequently on the list. But this year what set it apart from others with its 153-year-old lighthouse natural beauty, lack of development, abundant activities including fishing, swimming, kayaking, cycling, camping and an unparalleled view of the night sky for stargazers, Leatherman said.
“There’s just so many things that capture my imagination there,” Leatherman said in an interview. “It’s an idyllic place.”
Here is Dr. Beach’s complete 2023 top 10:
1. St. George Island State Park, Florida Panhandle
2. Duke Kahanamoku Beach, Oahu, Hawaii
3. Coopers Beach, Southampton, New York
4. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin/Clearwater, Florida
5. Lighthouse Beach, Buxton, Outer Banks of North Carolina
6. Coronado Beach, San Diego
7. Wailea Beach, Maui, Hawaii
8. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
9. Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii
10. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
The Associated Press contributed to this story.